HMIP Reports, HMP Nottingham

The prison was given an inspection in December 2017/January 2018. After that inspection the Inspectorate immediately raised significant concerns with the Secretary of State, the first time such an urgent notification had been issued by HMIP,(Click here) The Prison was inspected again in January 2020, and that full report can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below. In their latest report the inspectors said:

HMP Nottingham is a local prison that at the time of this inspection held a little under 800 prisoners, the number having been reduced from around 1,000. The inspection history of Nottingham in recent years is such that an explanation of what has happened is important in order to understand the background to this most recent inspection and the overall context in which we came to our judgements.

The prison was last inspected in early January 2018, which was the third full inspection since 2014. In contrast to our usual practice of arriving unannounced, that inspection and the previous one in 2016 were both announced well in advance. Notice of an impending inspection is intended to give an opportunity to a prison to focus on improvement or on completing earlier recommendations. We therefore found it extraordinary that, over the course of those three inspections, the prison had consistently failed to achieve standards that were sufficient in any of our four tests of a healthy prison. Most concerning of all was that, at all three inspections, we judged outcomes in safety to be poor, our lowest assessment, and that, at the 2018 inspection, we found that only two of 13 recommendations made in 2016 in the area of safety had been fully achieved. We could recall only one other occasion when we had judged safety in a prison to be poor following three consecutive inspections.

This persistent and fundamental lack of safety, together with an overall lack of improvement following previous poor inspections, led me in January 2018 to write to the Secretary of State for Justice and for the first time invoke the urgent notification (UN) protocol (see Glossary of terms), which was new at that time. In 2018 the Inspectorate also introduced a new procedure, called an independent review of progress (IRP), which was piloted at Nottingham in November 2018. An IRP is not a full inspection looking at outcomes experienced by prisoners across the full breadth of our usual inspection framework. Instead, it is intended to review progress made against key recommendations where there have been serious concerns following a full inspection. The IRP at Nottingham was disappointing and we found that the response to many of our recommendations had been far too slow. Although the Secretary of State’s action plan had been issued promptly following the UN, we found that little was done before July 2018 – a full six months. The concept of ‘urgency’ seemed not to have been grasped by either the prison or Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS). As a result, by the time of the IRP, various initiatives had yet to result in any discernible improvements in outcomes for prisoners, and a new Governor who had taken up post during the second half of 2018 had as yet been unable to effect any notable improvement.

Given the disappointing and indeed troubling history of poor inspections followed by inadequate responses, it was gratifying to find during this latest inspection that there had at long last been some real change at Nottingham. There had been improvements in three of our tests of a healthy prison, and we came away with some confidence that the improvements could be sustained and built upon if the leadership and energy that was now evident could be maintained into the future.

In terms of safety, although there was much data that was troubling and levels of violence were still far too high, we felt able to raise our judgement from poor to not sufficiently good. Too many prisoners still felt unsafe, there was still far too much violence and not enough was yet being done to counter it effectively. However, security had now improved and was beginning to have a positive impact. In particular, a body scanner was now being used to very good effect, leading to regular finds of secreted contraband that would not otherwise have been detected. For the future it is important that the full potential of this technology, both in detecting and deterring the ingress of illicit items, should be fully exploited. There was some evidence that the availability of illicit drugs was beginning to decline, the response to intelligence was appropriate and it was good to see that there was coordination between security and substance misuse services.

It was concerning that the number of self-harm incidents had increased substantially and that there had been four self-inflicted deaths since the last inspection. Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) recommendations following self-inflicted deaths had not always been addressed adequately. Despite the fact that analysis of data had improved, it had not yet led to a clear strategy. The quality of assessment, care in custody and teamwork (ACCT) documentation for prisoners at risk of suicide or self-harm had improved, and prisoners were positive about the support they received. It would have been quite possible for our judgement for safety to have remained at poor. However, although the raw figures had not improved, I take the view that there are occasions when new processes by their very existence can amount to positive outcomes, for instance when, as at Nottingham, they offer reassurance to prisoners, introduce safeguards and ensure improved governance. These improvements had yet to be translated into encouraging data, but we took the view that they were sufficiently important to warrant an improvement in our judgement about the overall safety of the prison.

At this inspection we found that healthcare had improved and was now good, and work in equality and diversity was in the early stages of improving. We also found that relationships between staff and prisoners had improved since the previous inspection, despite the continuing problems with lack of basic kit, clothing and bedding. We were also very concerned about delays in answering cell call bells in a prison where high levels of self-harm were of such concern. It was notable that applications and complaints were now much better handled, helped by the introduction of new electronic kiosks on the wings.

There had been significant improvements in rehabilitation and release planning, but there still remained much to do. We were particularly concerned about the shortage of probation officers in the offender management unit (OMU), and about the number of prisoners being released homeless. At around 40%, the figure was far too high and speaks of a need for more joint working with the local authority.

I hope this inspection can at long last mark a watershed in the troubled history of Nottingham. For many years it had a well-deserved reputation for being an unsafe prison. There is still a huge amount to do, but it would be wrong not to recognise the impressive progress that has been made since the poor findings of the IRP in November 2018. When a previously poorly performing prison improves, I have seen how it is possible for a new and optimistic culture, offering real care for prisoners and a better chance for them to rehabilitate, can take hold. I hope that can be achieved at Nottingham, as it could underpin future progress. All too often we have seen improvements in prisons prove to be fragile. The greatest risks have come from complacency or lack of consistency in leadership. I hope that neither will be the case at Nottingham, and that the highly creditable progress at this complex and challenging prison can be sustained into the future.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
March 2020


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To read the full reports follow the links below to the Ministry of Justice website

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